Sunday, March 20, 2005

My First Fine Bottle of Wine was a Bottle of Lancer's Rose. Yes, I Know, I Know.

Think of a flat stone being skipping across a vast body of water. Okay, now think of a flat stone being skipped across a vast body of wine.

I am that stone, though the metaphor quickly breaks down since I seem capable of an eternity of skipping, never sinking, never learning what is that thing so deep and interesting against which I glance.

Or to put it another way we have lived in the Bay Area for almost exactly 25 years, and I suppose we have averaged two trips a year to "Wine Country" -- mostly to Napa and Sonoma Counties but occasionally south of here where there are some nice wineries, though I can't give you any names off the top of of my head, which is my point, isn't it?

My god we've done the Mondavi wine tour in Napa a dozen times, and it's a fine tour but what I recall of it you could measure out in thimbles, as they do the wines you are allowed to taste at the end of the tour.

I do not know why this is so, why I fail to retain the most basic facts about grape growing and wine making. The only thing I remember -- the memory vivid and recurrent -- is that in the movie "From Russia with Love " Sean Connery knew Robert Shaw was a hired killer and not a true Englishman when he ordered red wine with his fish.

But it only took two minutes of light googling to find:

I've recently learned that these days its tres chic to drink red wine with fish in Paris, and since all my friends at lunch today were in favor of it we went for it. It actually went beautifully with the sole meuniere over mashed potatoes that I opted for. Sole is so delicate, an intense red wine would ordinarily overpower it, but with the salty brined capers and the loads of butter involved in this recipe, the acidity of the wine counterbalanced the richness of the dish and was really quite pleasant.

Apparently 007 killed the right man but for the wrong reason.

However, this weekend I finally learned something about wine. The partner of a friend of ours organized a birthday tour of several Sonoma County wineries specializing in zinfandel, the grape with the vaguely Prussian name.

(More googling: 1) Zinfandel was once thought of as an "American grape" but it equals Italy's Primitivo di Manduria grape which equals the Crljenak Kastelanski (sirl-YEN-ack kastel-AN-ski). grape from Croatia, which is as far back as its DNA fingerprint can be traced; 2) it's been in the U.S. since the 1820s; 3) the origin of the name is "etymological unknown," though it may honor an 18th Century German botanist named --- tahdah -- Dr. Zinn; 4) don't trust 1), 2) and 3) since looking for truth online is like drinking red wine with with fish, maybe so maybe no.)

Anyway, what I learned is that if you rent a mini-bus holding 20 people to tour the wineries it's only $60 an hour for the whole bus so if you can fill it up it's a pretty cheap day. It's certainly safer that way.

That's what I learned, plus the fact zinfandel is made in more styles than I realized. Sometimes it doesn't taste like zinfandel at all, meaning I really didn't understand what zinfandel tasted like in the first place. I suspect this is one of the side effects of buying really cheap wine, that and inviting the contempt of others. (Isn't "inviting contempt" a really neat phrase? Swirl it around your mouth. Savor its bouquet. Now, spit it out!)

Actually I guess I learned one thing and unlearned another thing.

Darn. I'm feeling a whole thimbleful of embarrassment.

P.S. I asked my wife which of the wineries she liked best and she said this one because it had a cat.

P.P.S. My wife said it wasn't just the cat. She said the Talty zinfandels were comparatively light though complex, not over-oaked, with a lovely berry flavor. She says I can invite all the contempt I want but to include her out.

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